- - Monday, July 22, 2013

In today’s global economy the old rules don’t apply. Students in Maryland no longer compete only with students in Virginia; now they compete with students in Helsinki, Toronto and Seoul — and they’re losing.

U.S. students are falling behind their international peers in reading, math and science. But there’s hope — the state and local adoption of the Common Core State Standards provide the best opportunity in a generation for understanding the gap, reversing this decline and putting all students on the right path. The Common Core State Standards have the support of America’s business leaders, and these standards should have the support of any American who wants to ensure our country and our children are ready to compete in the 21st century global marketplace.

Despite the fact that these standards are voluntary and were developed by America’s governors and state school superintendents, they have recently come under attack by parties who claim they are a federal government takeover of kindergarten through Grade 12 schools. These fears are not only misplaced, they threaten the strength of our economy.

To remain competitive in the global marketplace, American companies need employees who can read, write, use mathematics and make well-reasoned decisions. Ideally, we would educate all of our students to succeed in innovative 21st century jobs that will require greater skills. Unfortunately, at present, we are not.

Today, U.S. students rank 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math when compared to their global peers on the most recent Program for International Student Assessment. The recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study data show that only 29 percent of U.S. eighth graders can correctly solve a basic fraction equation that 86 percent of students in South Korea can solve. I think U.S. eighth graders can match the performance of South Korean students if they know what is expected of them. The goal of the Common Core State Standards is to be very clear about those expectations.

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Some parents think poor student performance in reading, science and math is only an urban problem or a low-income issue. But a new, first-of-its-kind school-by-school comparison has demonstrated that the performance gap between American and foreign students is not isolated to low-income communities. The report, released by the education group America Achieves, shatters the myth that middle-class students in the United States are somehow better than other countries.

The Common Core State Standards can help our students catch up to the rest of the world. The standards set more rigorous academic requirements in English language arts and mathematics. They were voluntarily adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia, and they would largely replace a patchwork of inconsistent, often weak or sometimes non-existent academic standards in America’s 7,000 local school districts. They build on the work of other states, such as Massachusetts and Minnesota, and top-performing countries that perform well on international tests.

If our students are unable to keep up with their global peers, institutions — from our military to our manufacturing sector — will erode. Without a thriving economy and high-paying jobs, American families will struggle to make ends meet and provide the future security for successive generations that we have come to take for granted.

It is for these reasons that Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of leading U.S. companies, is committed to the Common Core State Standards and their implementation. Our members’ companies operate in an increasingly interconnected global economy where competitors transcend international borders, not merely neighboring state lines. It’s not good enough if only 29 percent of our students can correctly solve a basic math equation. We need to do better to ensure our students are prepared to succeed in college or the workplace.

From the establishment of a public education system to the creation of the first GI bill, the United States has long recognized the benefits a well-educated work force confers on our society. The Common Core State Standards extend that commitment and inform America’s students, teachers and parents about what we need to know and when. I am confident when we know what is required, we will meet that challenge and secure our future.

John Engler is president of Business Roundtable.